The Peppermint Kid by Jeff Veazey

*Featured Art by Phoebe Mol

Mr. Peppermint is my father. I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’re my friends and I want you to know. It’s a secret. You can’t tell anyone. That’s why he never comes to parent-teacher night. See, he plays Mr. Peppermint on TV and it is hard for him. If he goes out in regular clothes people bug him and say, “Where’s the Peppermint suit and the candy cane and the flat top straw hat?” and if he goes out dressed as Mr. Peppermint, then kids run up to him and say, “May I please have a peppermint?” or “Gimme a peppermint!” Or they look at me and say, “Who is this kid?” “Where is his peppermint suit?” My Dad can’t be a regular Dad wearing a peppermint-striped suit.

I first started telling this story in the din of the Reinhardt Elementary School lunchroom, a place that always smelled of hot Crisco and acrid Salisbury steak. My lunch often consisted of a dish of instant mashed potatoes with a brown gravy that seemed to make my hyperactive disorder worse, yet, was delicious in a salty way, and a hot yeast roll with a pat of butter.

The lunchroom duty teacher had paused her patrol at the end of the row of tables.  Elementary teachers’ superpower is to always catch you at your absolute worst. She clearly heard my lie. She glared at me until the entire table had stopped talking, stopped chewing, and glared at me also.

All of the teachers knew I was in my “own little world” and prone to “telling stories.” Later, I saw her laughing in the hall with another teacher but when they spotted me, they flexed their jaws, and squinted disapprovingly. I looked at the floor and scooted down the hall.

They would not have laughed or thought I was crazy if they had known the rest of the story. Their scorn was not undeserved but they didn’t care about the things that weren’t my fault.

Like the night of the big fight, my parent’s separation, and divorce. Everyone said I shouldn’t think that was my fault. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But as sad as a child can be when a parent

is leaving the family, sometimes the parent doesn’t leave fast enough.

The last interaction I remember having with my dad before he moved out was when I asked him to take me fishing at a lake near our home. Not today, he said. For several days, when he got home from work, I’d ask again. Finally, he exploded. He spanked me until I promised to never ask to go fishing again.

There were plenty of reasons and excuses to explain why my dad was self-destructing but when you are in the middle of an explosion, no one stops to listen. You have to protect yourself and run like hell.  When I ran, one of the people I ran to was Mr. Peppermint.

I felt bad about continuing the Mr. Peppermint lie, mostly because I knew Mr. Peppermint would be disappointed in me. I did occasionally tell whoppers, trying to get attention, so I already had a bad reputation for not being able to tell the truth.  Strangely, when I did try to tell the truth about the big fight and all, hardly anyone believed me.

In short order, I went from liar to thief. I took my brother’s silver dollar collection. No one spent old silver dollars, so when I tried, the manager of the 7-11 called my mom. No one would have thought too much about that stunt, other than my brother, except that the manager of 7-11 had already called my mom about the botched penny candy heist. The pattern of conduct was becoming concerning.

People tried to help keep me out of mischief but I had impulse issues and it spread doubt about my character.

After lying and stealing, there was the fire. Even if a fire is an accident, people still think you are an arsonist or a pyro. Even if it doesn’t do much damage, if you are a kid who already got caught lying and stealing, and you set an “accidental” fire, people have their eyes on you for the rest of your life.

I think we built our fort there because Billy’s mom didn’t care what we did. The first time I visited their house to play with Billy, his mother said, “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t burn the neighborhood down.”

A few months later, Billy and I sat in our Christmas tree fort and talked about having a war with the kids on the next block over. We heard they were building a Christmas tree fort, too. We couldn’t think of a reason to start a war but if they invaded, we needed to be prepared. We were of this mind due to the fact we had already built a Christmas tree fort at the creek down the hill and some older kids had taken it over and run us out.

For our new fort, we collected 20 trees which shielded us from the prairie wind but not the cold.

“I wish we had a heater.” My teeth were chattering.

“I have matches.”

“Why do you have matches?”

“I just do.”

“I can’t have matches.”

“Go get some paper and we’ll make a little campfire.”

Next thing I know we are stomping and kicking where the paper caught the dry, brown grass on fire and some of the fire got kicked into the trees and the whole fort went up in flames like it was soaked in gasoline.

We tumbled out of the fort as Billy’s mother looked out the kitchen window and ran to call the fire department. Neighbors came out of their houses and we heard the sirens in the distance.

By the time we went back to school a few days later, everyone in Northeast Dallas knew about the two boys who almost burned down the neighborhood. At school the first day back, the principal met us at the door and took us into his office, and made us empty our pockets.

“I better not hear anything about matches at school!”

Some mornings at 7 a.m. it was hard to reconcile my sociopathic, if not criminal, behavior while also being a regular viewer of “Mr. Peppermint”. For at least one hour every morning, Monday through Friday, I wanted to be a good kid. I knew I could be a good kid. I thought about some stupid thing I did recently and how my Dad reacted and then I would try to think how Mr. Peppermint would have reacted.

Mr. Peppermint was a soft-spoken, sweet-natured, fellow, who had a pretend music shop on TV. Kids brightened at the sight of the smiling, lanky man in a candy cane-striped suit and straw hat, passing out red and white peppermints. His puppet friends were Jingles the Dragon and Mr. Wiggly Worm. He used his magic candy cane, to make phone calls, play trombone, and see into the future. He went on imaginary adventures, played folk songs on his guitar, and sang.

I thought if Mr. Peppermint had kids and they did something bad, he would talk to them in a firm but kind voice. He would walk with them to apologize to everyone. He would stand next to you, so as to say, he was really proud of you.

Mr. Peppermint was important to me beyond the age when other kids had stopped watching. I watched him almost every weekday morning from age 5 to 9. Historically, these years were bordered by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Mr. Peppermint had a vivid imagination, good manners, and a positive attitude, and every morning before school, I spent that one precious hour with him via our Zenith black and white TV. In that TV world, no one screamed at anyone and adults listened to children.

My relationship with Mr. Peppermint changed on Nov. 22, 1963.

My mom was rushing to get out of the house to her teaching job when I told her I didn’t feel well. I was faking sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I did that pretty often. She didn’t have a choice. She was a single, working mom, and she had to leave me with my older brother who was home actually sick. He was old enough to take care of himself and to make sure I didn’t, well, burn down the neighborhood.

After I had slept some more, drank my Carnation instant breakfast, worked on my spelling list, and done the multiplication flash cards my mom made, I turned the TV on. The sound was beeping and the words, “News Bulletin”, appeared on the screen. No person appeared but a voice came on and said shots were fired in Dealey Plaza and cars had raced away and reports were that the President might have been shot. There would be more news as it became available.

I went to my brother’s room. I tried to tell him what I heard. He was skeptical but came to the living room and switched the channels around but all had regular programming. On Channel 8 the screen flickered and the picture switched from “Julie Bunnell” a show about how to be a good homemaker, to two men, banging around metal folding chairs, breathing heavily, and trying to uncoil the microphone cord.

The first man immediately grabbed my attention as he gave directions to people in the studio. He held wire service copy fresh off the teletype in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. There was sweat on his forehead and he was clearly in charge.

The other man stayed at the back of the makeshift studio for just a moment, held his hands at his belt with his head bowed, as if in prayer. As he raised his head and stepped forward I recognized Mr. Peppermint – but not in the costume! He was wearing a suit and glasses.

The smoker introduced himself as “Jay Watson” and the quieter of the two men as, “Jerry Haynes, station announcer, and you may know him as our own “Mr. Peppermint”.

Watson said they were trying to get information from reporters in the field but preliminary reports indicated that shots were fired in downtown Dallas and the President’s limo had raced away. He said it appeared someone in the limo might have been hit.

Jay and Jerry tried to give their account. They had gone to lunch together and planned to see the President drive by. The limo passed them, turned a corner, and a few seconds later they heard shots. They ran into Dealey Plaza and talked to a family who was fifty feet or less from the President when the third shot hit the president in the head. They agreed to come over to the studio. Jay and Mr. Peppermint sprinted back to the studio only to find a skeleton crew available to bring up live coverage.

On air, they appeared to be wavering between truth and shock, trying to make sense of it for themselves and for the people watching. The couple with two young children had been located and brought to the studio. They nervously described the horror. They were feet from the motorcade as it passed at the precise moment that a bullet hit the President’s head. You could see they didn’t want to say what everyone else was thinking.

My brother and I looked at each other. He knew and his eyes told me what I was afraid to know. He came over and sat down beside me and put his arm around me.

Jay Watson tried to keep up with the teletype feed from the wire services and took phone calls from reporters. The updates conflicted and caused confusion.

“He’s dead.”

“The President is still alive.”

“The President is receiving blood.”

“Two priests are at the hospital”

“The priests say the President is dead.”

Jerry Haynes had to take over while Jay Watson stepped off camera. Jerry sat down and calmly recounted the events of the day. He told them in order, from breakfast in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy gave a “very fine” speech, to the reports out of Parkland Hospital.

It was like Mr. Peppermint had gathered all of the people around, like children, and said, “I have very sad news to tell you.”

Somehow, he told it so that we could comprehend it. We couldn’t understand the why but we could comprehend the what. Sometimes the what of something evil has to sit there for a while before we can ever start with the why.

Years later, my wife and our young sons did settle back in Dallas, in the same old neighborhood where I grew up on the east side of White Rock Lake. Jerry Haynes lived in the same area and I occasionally saw Jerry around the neighborhood.

Once, my sons were with me when we saw him walking at the lake. I tried to explain why Mr. Peppermint was so important.  “That’s Mr. Peppermint! I used to lie and tell people he was my Dad.” My youngest son said, “Not ‘spose to lie, Daddy.” and my middle son hugged my neck and said he never wanted any dad but me. There was a little part of me that thought, well, Mr. Peppermint would be proud.

The last time I ran into Jerry Haynes was late on a blustery, cold winter night in a grocery store in our neighborhood. He was carrying a gallon of whole milk and a package of Oreo cookies as we approached the checkout from opposite directions. He knew from the surprise on my face that I recognized him. I almost bowed and said, “Please go right ahead Mr. Peppermint.”

He smiled and said, “Thank you, Friend.” Friend. Wow. I knew that he knew I was a member of Peppermint Nation. I tried to be casual, and not get too excited – didn’t want to be a stalker.

“Hey!” the checker said, “I know you! Mr. Peppermint! I watched you when I was little!”

I was nodding and smiling in agreement but didn’t want to say, “I watched more!”

Mister Peppermint acknowledged us both with a friendly nod. “It’s always nice to see some of the Peppermint family!”

The checker now got chatty with us and said, “You know, you two look like you could be related.” Mr. Peppermint and I looked at each other.

“Yes, I can see the resemblance!” he said politely. There is no resemblance.

“Well, he doesn’t know me but when I was a kid I used to lie and tell other kids he was my father!”

The cashier raised her eyebrow like I might be getting creepy.

“You did? Why?” Mister Peppermint asked.

Standing at the checkout, I wanted to take his hand in mine. That sounds silly but I was with the gentle-man I needed as a crazy, mixed-up, hurting, kid. A TV dad to be sure, unattainable, but still a dad that, if he had been real, would have forgiven my mistakes, not spanked me for asking to go fishing, and been there to help me through the traumas.

“My dad had a lot of problems and you were the perfect TV dad. I think you reached a lot of kids like me who needed an hour of kindness every morning before school.”

“Oh my. Thank you. That makes my day!”

After all those years, I got to express my gratitude to Mr. Peppermint.  He took his milk and cookies, nodded, smiled, and was gone.  I had made his day like he had saved a thousand of mine.


"The Peppermint Kid" is Jeff Veazey's first published work. Jeff is a former barkeeper, poverty lawyer, tree farmer, swimming coach, apple picker, and long-term substitute High school English teacher. Jeff has an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Texas at Dallas and a law degree from Vermont Law School.

Phoebe Mol is an illustrator living in the Twin Cities. Find her at


  1. Hey, Jeff. I really enjoyed “The Peppermint Kid.” I too grew up in the 60s and I had a “friend,” an imaginary character in my childhood who helped save me from dysfunctional parents. His name was Gunchy Fizzlegoop and to this day I have no idea where I got that name from. Lol. Congratulations on your first publication and I wish you luck that you’ll have more. PS -I also have a story in this edition of Memoir, called “Finding Me at Gettysburg.” If you find time to read it, I’d like to have your feedback. Have a great rest of the week. Rich Strack

  2. What a moving story and stark reminder of the people around me who really need a little bit of kindness. Thanks, Jeff.

    I, too, grew up in Dallas and have spent my own time with Mr. Peppermint. My dad worked in the postal annex building on the south side of Dealey Plaza. He told me later that he thought about taking me out of school on the day the President passed through Dealey Plaza. We would have been standing right there.

  3. A beautifully nuanced story of the confusing world post – wwII children were born into. A piece that really feels like it is processing itself

  4. This is such a beautiful and heartfelt story. What an amazing writer!!! So inspiring.

  5. I am too old to have seen Mr..Peppermint,and my kids are too young. Still, it was sweet and tender to read of the comfort given to a young boy and the blessing to an adult who remembers.

  6. And I remember the smell of the Reinhardt lunch room from the days when you were in high school. Mystery meat and ferocious lunch ladies.

  7. Beautifully written. Brings back my childhood and my own memories of Mr Peppermint. And isn’t that what childhood is all about? Having hero’s.

  8. Mr Peppermint., as good as or even better than Mr Rogers. We knew him in our neighborhood and he was kind and affirming! Jeff, this is exquisitely written!

  9. You have spun another great yarn. It brought back a lot of great memories, most of them good. I always look forward to your stories because they always have a neighborly feel. Please don’t slow down your typewriter.

  10. This story is a treasure . It so beautifully captured the perspective of a kid of that era. I felt the yearning and the self doubt .The writing brought me right back to my own childhood growing up in Dallas with neighborhood “wars” and the ever present scrutiny of grown ups who were sure to tell our parents if we did anything out of line.I remember vividly a teacher coming into the school cafeteria and announcing that President Kennedy had been shot.
    Great story!

  11. Mr.Peppermint was the anchor of our childhood. I was maybe 7 or 8 and it was the family trip to the fair. We were strolling about and someone called out my daddy’s name. Before I knew it, I was standing with daddy and there he was Mr. Peppermint in signature hat and coat. They were smiling and shaking hands and talking. My eyes were wide and Mr. Peppermint was bending down and taking my hand. Daddy said this is my old friend Mr. Haynes. I told him no, this is Mr. Peppermint. They laughed and said I was right. It turned out that they went to school together and played baseball at Woodrow Wilson. Some years later Daddy brought me an autographed picture with Mr Peppermint and Muffin Bear. I was 20 and I love it. More time passed and there was a Woodrow high school reunion. My mother was I’ll and I got to be Daddy’s date and yes, I got to dance with Mr. Peppermint.

  12. “Sometimes the what of something evil has to sit there for a while before we can ever start with the why.” What a powerful sentence planted in the middle of a delightful and insightful story of growing up in a city, Dallas, who’s history was permanently handicapped by a finger on a trigger in a wickedly cold minute of November 60 years ago. The traumatic moment seared a burn scar on every comprehending mind around the entire world and altered social topography as much as a colossal earthquake shakes our planet. The inexplicable has a vexing self-perpetuation as vast and unpredictable as a battlefield of unsuspecting minds. Jeff Veazey’s story magically weaves together the historic internal and external scars of traumas from afar in time and place, the delightful mind of a child at play in his neighborhood and the invisible horror of domestic abuse. Thankfully he shows us the resilience of the mind, even as a small child to find the guiding light we all need.

  13. Awesome writing skills! Memories of my own childhood returned because he was a father-figure to me also. My single mom did a great job in rearing me and my two (crazy-ish) sisters, however. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

  14. What a great story! I’m glad you had Mr. Peppermint as a role model. You did a great job of raising your own boys. His kind manner rubbed off on you!

  15. Frances Gibbs Servello
    May 1, 2023 at 14:15
    Ah, Jeff, you have touched my heart and soul with your childhood memories of east Dallas, Mr. Peppermint and the cataclysmic events of November 22, 1963. Your words create such vivid emotional pictures of little boys playing with matches, hard ass teachers with no heart for a child that just needed a smile, a kind word, a hug, and a big brother who gave a hug when life was confusing and traumatic. What a gifted writer you are! Please continue to share your stories with us; we live in a world that needs your humanity.
    As a retired public school English teacher, I applaud your creativity and sensitivity.

  16. Jeff, you are a gifted writer. I can see, feel, hear, and smell your stories. I often have to push away a tear or ten. Please keep sharing your work with the rest of us, your fans.

  17. Jeff, I am so sorry to tell you this in such a public way, but I just got my DNA results from, and well….bring it in, son! I loved you before I knew you! Call me!

    tears of joy,

    Jerry Haynes

  18. what a great story to provide healing for so many of us who need to find role models, even if they but images on a screen. Beautifully woven story telling tied up with such a cathartic meeting between the two of you in the end. Carry this spirit into all of your writings and followers will find you

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